Saturday, January 28, 2017

Ich Nibber Dibber (Sydney Festival)

Ich Nibber Dibber by post.  Campbelltown Arts Centre, January 20, 21, 27, 28, 2017.

Post, Lead Artists – Mish Grigor, Zoë Coombs Marr and Natalie Rose

Designers: Lighting and Production Manager – Fausto Brusamolino; Set and Costume – Michael Hankin; Sound – James Brown
Dramaturg – Anne-Louise Sarks

Reviewed by Frank McKone
January 27

Ich Nibber Dibber is a new genre which I term ‘sit-up comedy’, rather than old-hat standup.  Whether or not you could or should wash a hat, or throw it out when it gets too dirty and just get a new one, was quite an important issue.  As important as, if God is dead, as Nietzche said he was, now that Nietzche is also dead, how might he be feeling when he gets to heaven and finds that God isn’t dead after all?

The three women of the theatre company post spent their hour and ten, each perched up on a 2 metre post, draped in loose white material somewhere between a bedsheet and a wedding dress, and talked – regurgitating ten years’ worth of off-task banter from selfie videos actually recorded between their on-task writing sessions creating shows such as Oedipus Schmoedipus (reviewed on this blog January 25, 2014 and about to go on tour in South America!) and many others. 

I could also call it ‘reality theatre’, except that no-one got voted off.  This was because they laughed at each other as much as we laughed at (or rather, with) them, both during the performance and, for those of us who stayed, during the following Q&A session.

Their ten year odyssey began when Mish and Zoë were 18 and 19 and Nat was 43.  Burst of laughter.  23! says Natalie.  Fascinating how their manner of speaking, what my drama teacher called ‘acting acting’ – to prove that you know what you are doing – was just right for that young age, but gradually changed, to the almost subliminal background accompaniment of pop music to match the history, to the point where maturity raised the question of being over the hill (at 40! says Natalie, not 30!), looking down the barrel of middle-age and menopause.

What made me sit up, thinking back to my 1950s upbringing when women’s body parts were strictly never to be mentioned (still like Queen Victoria’s ankles in the nether regions), was the excruciating details provided of women’s internal bodily functions.  I know this is all cool, nowadays, because all the women around me (who constituted about 90% of the audience) were metaphorically tweeting LOVL – laughing out very loud!

The most excruciating image of giving birth, from Natalie – whose efforts were being videoed (you never know, we might be able to use this in a show), except that the computer had 1950s qualms (probably overheating) and switched itself off for the climactic moment – was when she described herself in the “push” phase as feeling like a Bodum coffee plunger (except that all the mucky stuff came out the bottom).  Bottoms and what come out of them also got a good run with repeats throughout the rapid fire talk.

One experience I missed back in 1972 was to read Ways of Seeing by John Berger.  The women’s talk included Mish looking up on her phone and quoting what he wrote about how women are always conscious of how they appear to others, to men and to other women, so they are always “seeing themselves” as if they are an art object.  This took the show out of continually divergent apparently silly but very funny talk for just a minute or so, but to me seemed to be the serious theme behind these women’s work.

Discussion in the Q&A gave them the opportunity to talk about how, as young actors still in youth theatre orbit, they had had to learn that they had no choice about being seen by their audience as female, and how, in accepting that fact, they could present women on stage in new ways.  Oedipus Schmoedipus was a great example, where blood all over them took on new meanings, especially for men in the audience, as well as confirming for women what they already knew.

This led as well to talk about the business of being actors and designing a performance of themselves changing over the ten years.  Although their actual talk as originally recorded seemed discontinuous, they found themselves editing out (though keeping the true timeline) and so realised that there is a story – a through line – about their developing maturity, in contrast to their other shows where absurdist discontinuity was the experimental theatre mode.

So once again the Sydney Festival has produced a winner, and a very interesting comparison about the perception of women to put alongside the very successful humorous and emotionally affecting transgender presentation from Canada: Tomboys Survival Guide (reviewed here January 26, 2017). 

Maybe I can retitle these women’s teenage-nonsense-German Ich Nibber Dibber as the Upfront Modern Women’s Comedy Better Than Survival Guide.